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Alternate History

Updated: Apr 22

A fun way to explore your understanding of current history is to read about “what if,” alternate histories. Alternate history novels are a fascinating genre that explores "what if" scenarios by imagining how the course of history might have been different if certain key events had unfolded differently. Sometimes the change is big, sometimes small. I would argue it is general science fiction as a genre though I suppose it doesn’t have to be hard science fiction, and could fall into a cozier fantasy story as well.

Harry Turtledove is often dubbed the "Master of Alternate History," Turtledove has written numerous novels exploring various alternate timelines. His works include the Southern Victory series, which imagines a world where the South won the American Civil War, and The Worldwar series, where aliens invade Earth during World War II. (My personal favorite alternate history series ever.)

Philip K. Dick is primarily known for his science fiction works, but he also wrote some notable alternate history stories. One of his most famous works in this genre is The Man in the High Castle, which depicts a world where the Axis Powers won World War II and divided the United States into Nazi and Japanese-controlled territories.

Kim Stanley Robinson is better known for his science fiction and speculative fiction, Robinson has also dabbled in alternate history. His novel The Years of Rice and Salt explores a world where the Black Death decimated Europe, leading to a vastly different global landscape dominated by Islamic and Chinese civilizations. (This is my favorite single alternate history book ever.)

The Years of Rice and Salt

That is to say, while this is not a huge genre, it has certainly got some big players.

Alternate history novels excel at exploring intriguing hypotheticals by asking questions like "What if a major historical event had unfolded differently?" This aspect allows readers to delve into thought-provoking scenarios and contemplate the potential consequences of alternate paths in history.

There are so many books in the world that could be written, and should be read.

What if Heron of Alexandria, an ancient Greek inventor, had successfully developed and harnessed steam power for practical applications in the 1st century AD, accelerating technological progress and reshaping the ancient world?

What if the British had failed to intercept the Zimmermann Telegram during World War I, preventing the revelation of Germany's proposed alliance with Mexico and potentially keeping the United States out of the war?

What if the Battle of Waterloo, fought between Napoleon Bonaparte and the Duke of Wellington, had taken place on a day with torrential rain, rendering cavalry charges ineffective and altering the outcome of the battle?

Go find a what if of your own today to read, and if the one you want doesn’t exist, maybe you should go write it. 😊

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